back to article 'Safest car ever made' Tesla Model S EV crashes and burns. Car 'performed as designed'

Pugnacious electric car maker Tesla Motors is embroiled in another media firestorm today, after one of its new Model S EVs - touted by the firm as being the safest car ever tested by US highway authorities - suffered a serious battery fire following an accident. Youtube Video Tesla has stated that the incident began when the …


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    1. Greg J Preece

      Re: I don't think it's fair...

      It's not fair to mention a thing that happened? He was talking about the firefighters using correct methods at that point, and stating that the battery was hard to extinguish. I'm imagining that blazing petrol-powered cars are also a bastard to put out.

      It's the car's fault that it burst into flames, firefighters' initial cockup or no.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: I don't think it's fair...

        "It's the car's fault", I think we should blame the driver too. You know like with guns.

        1. Greg J Preece

          Re: I don't think it's fair...

          Looking back, that kind of a silly comment. ;-) I was just responding to his earlier post. It's the designers' fault, of course.

      2. Euripides Pants Silver badge

        Re: I don't think it's fair...

        " firefighters using correct methods at that point,"

        I expect that firefighters would know better than to use water on any vehicle fire electric or internal combustion.

        1. Charles Manning

          Re: I don't think it's fair...

          "I expect that firefighters would know better than to use water on any vehicle fire electric or internal combustion."

          I expect that most firefighters would have a better understanding of the general principles of firefighting than some armchair interweb commentard.

          Water is actually a damn good at putting out engine fires because it cools things down very quickly. The most important thing to do in a significant fire is to get the heat out. Once a big hunk of metal such as an engine is really hot, then flame suppression (eg. CO2) is not enough. As soon as the CO2 dissipates, a very hot engine will just burst into flames again. You need to get the temperature below the flash point and water does that very well.

          This is not an effective method on a lithium battery fire (which is really a chemical fire rather than normal combustion).

          It is easy to make the mistake. Very few people cruising up to a fire would see it as being different from any other car. Perhaps Teslas should be fitted with chemical hazmat stickers identifying the fire risk.

          No doubt vehicle firefighting training will have to progress with the upsurge in EVs and hybrids.

          1. Fluffy Bunny

            Re: I don't think it's fair...

            If my server room needs a hazmat sticker because the UPS has lead in it, then your car also need to be labelled properly. After all, LPG powered vehicles need proper signage in case of fire.

            1. Psyx

              Re: I don't think it's fair...

              "If my server room needs a hazmat sticker because the UPS has lead in it, then your car also need to be labelled properly. After all, LPG powered vehicles need proper signage in case of fire."

              Mate, if cars had all the warning stickers on they'd have to have if they were anything else, fewer people would drive them!

              1. Anonymous Coward
                Anonymous Coward

                Re: I don't think it's fair...

                Not seen too many Lead fires lately.

              2. Steve Evans

                Re: I don't think it's fair...

                Good grief don't let the Americans loose with the warning labels.

                They're already reminded of the bleedin' obvious with the old "objects in the rear view mirror..." printing.

                Can you imagine if they label every hazard?

                Every door opening "Danger, do not shut fingers in door".

                Every window "Do not lick glass when cold"

                Every air vent "Do not stick fingers in air vents"

                Rear seats could be woven with "Do not look at these whilst you are driving" in the cloth.

                Then again, maybe all children should be labelled "These may distract you from driving. Remember to always gag and immobilise".

          2. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: I don't think it's fair...

            No matter how you look at it, that's a very long step: from "world's safest car" to "it really needs hazmat stickers".

            1. ian 22

              Re: I don't think it's fair...

              Really needs a fire suppression unit in the battery compartment(s). Halon? CO2?

              Plus firefighter training and firefighter aids as are being discussed, providing warnings and schematics of alt-fuel vehicles. It wouldn't do to apply the jaws of life to the 500 volt mains.

              1. Psyx

                Re: I don't think it's fair...

                "Really needs a fire suppression unit in the battery compartment(s). Halon? CO2?"

                Sure. Let's do it to petrol cars, too. Except it'd put a chunk of cash on the price and (petrol) car manufacturers would rather pay the odd million here and there to settle when people die than they would do that.

              2. gromm

                Re: I don't think it's fair...

                They wouldn't ever *have* to apply the jaws of life to the 500 volt mains. The entire battery and electrical system is *under* the car. The Jaws of Life are only used on the weak points of the car where you typically put the side-curtain airbags.

            2. gromm

              Re: I don't think it's fair...

              And strangely enough, considering the large number of gas cars that burst into flames in an accident, that means that when they say "world's safest car", only one bursting into flames out of - what is it now, 20,000 units? - still means that it's the world's safest car.

              Oh yeah, and I couldn't help but notice that the car warned the driver about the damage and the need to get out. I don't think there's a MB out there with the same feature.

              1. Anonymous Coward
                Anonymous Coward

                Re: I don't think it's fair...

                Reminds me of the way they tried to handle the Dreamliner issues

          3. PatientOne

            Re: I don't think it's fair...

            I really hate to correct you, but the important thing in a fire is to remove one of the three components: Heat, Oxygen or Fuel. However, you are spot on that CO2 would only delay combustion for a very short time on a engine fire as it will simply disperse and allow oxygen back in.

            You are also spot on re: Firefighters. They are trained in tackling fires and they know what their priorities are. Spraying down an electrical fire with water stops the heat from that fire from causing secondary combustion, meaning the fire is contained. They will be less concerned about the chemicals at that point: They want to get the fire contained first, then look at tackling the source.

            And it sounds like they did exactly that: contain the fire, then tackle the chemical component.

          4. Kevin McMurtrie Silver badge

            Re: I don't think it's fair...

            Lots of water is good for a burning Li-ion battery. The electricity has already turned into heat so it hardly matters that the water conducts a tiny bit. There's nothing to do but prevent the heat from spreading. It's likely that electric cars of the future will have a connector where firefighters can instantly flood the battery packs with water and activate discharging shunts on the cells.

            A battery fire on a ship is different because you don't want to be standing in a pool of electrified water.

          5. Euripides Pants Silver badge

            Re: I don't think it's fair...

            "I expect that most firefighters would have a better understanding of the general principles of firefighting than some armchair interweb commentard."

            This armchair interweb commentard works with lithium batteries and knows that lithium + water = more fire.

        2. Psyx

          Re: I don't think it's fair...

          "I expect that firefighters would know better than to use water on any vehicle fire electric or internal combustion."

          Clearly not in this case. The training has fallen behind the times, I'd suggest.

          Anyway, I'd still rather have been involved in this fire than the average petrol one. Petrol vapour is horrible stuff, but we've been happy to have that in our cars for a century now.

          1. PatientOne

            Re: I don't think it's fair...

            'Clearly not in this case. The training has fallen behind the times, I'd suggest.'

            I would suggest you go train as a volunteer fire fighter. Then you would know if the training was falling behind the times or not. You'll also find out if the equipment they're using is behind the times, too. After all, how do you know they were using just normal water and not water with chemical additives to make it safer to use in such fires. After all, all cars have batteries and electrical components, and a petrol fire is a chemical fire (liquid rather than solid, of cause).

            As for petrol fires: Petrol used to contain lead to retard combustion, making it more efficient to burn. Remove the lead and the petrol becomes far more volatile. Hmm... and we went and removed the lead and didn't try replacing it with something else...

            1. Psyx

              Re: I don't think it's fair...

              "I would suggest you go train as a volunteer fire fighter."

              I'd rather just pose it as a suggestion on a forum and wait until someone knowledgeable comes along to supply information, thanks. Not that I'd stand a chance of getting in, with the Fire Service essentially being a bit of a closed shop in these parts.

              "Then you would know if the training was falling behind the times or not."

              I would suggest that if the firefighters didn't realise what the issue was that there must surely be a training shortfall or a failure in procedure somewhere.

              "After all, how do you know they were using just normal water and not water with chemical additives to make it safer to use in such fires. After all, all cars have batteries and electrical components, and a petrol fire is a chemical fire (liquid rather than solid, of cause)."

              Better still, I'll ask a firefighting friend when I see him next week...

              "As for petrol fires: Petrol used to contain lead to retard combustion, making it more efficient to burn. Remove the lead and the petrol becomes far more volatile. Hmm... and we went and removed the lead and didn't try replacing it with something else..."

              That's not strictly true. The lead doesn't make it more efficient to burn; it stops det and your engine being damaged because of it. And it WAS replaced with alternatives: You engine isn't running on low RON fuel now that you don't have lead in it.

        3. InsaneGeek

          Re: I don't think it's fair...

          Watching my neighbors car have an internal combustion engine fire in his driveway, I can say that the water used by the firefighters worked extremely well in putting it out.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Alert system?

      "The car's alert system signaled a problem and instructed the driver to pull over safely, which he did"

      "Get out, get out, get out you fcuker or you will burn to death, get out, get out get out get out, now ruuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuun!"

      1. Marketing Hack Silver badge

        Re: Alert system?

        Nah, the granddaughter of Aliens' atmosphere processor:

        "You now have 30 seconds to reach minimum safe distance..."

    3. Dazed and Confused

      Re: I don't think it's fair...

      Sounds more like Telsa need to work with the fire authorities to find the best way to handle fires on their vehicles and then to make sure that fire-fighters in target market places know how to handle them. The fire crew arriving at this scene will have started off using the techniques they've been taught.

      If a new kind of car is going to need a radically different way of fire-fighting, then there is going to need to be a whole lot more training needed all of the a sudden.

    4. BillG

      Re: I don't think it's fair...

      It's not the cars fault...

      It's the car's fault.

    5. Ralph B

      Re: I don't think it's fair...

      You're all missing the most import aspect of this story.

  2. Cliff

    Lithium + water?

    Rather than an electrical fire per se, is this lithium batteries which won't calm down a whole heap if sprayed with water. Vague recollections of 3rd form chemistry and playing about with Lithium and its friends in a big bowl of water to get Hydrogen??

    1. jonathanb Silver badge

      Re: Lithium + water?

      Correct. Water doesn't work because lithium will take the oxygen out of the water to burn, leaving hydrogen to burn with other oxygen. CO2 will not work because lithium will take the oxygen out of the CO2, leaving carbon to burn with other oxygen. Sand will not work because lithium will take the oxygen out of the SiO2. Foam generally contains water, so is no use for that reason.

      1. Duke2010

        Re: Lithium + water?

        Will a big towel do it?

      2. PatientOne

        Re: Lithium + water?

        The water will damp down the area to contain the fire. Sure, lithium might* still burn merrily in the water, but the plastics, the metals, the paint, the foam seating, and anything else around that could catch due to the heat from the fire will not.

        Once contained, the fire fighters can then go in and tackle the chemical component, which probably does need specialist kit to tackle, but they managed with what they've got. Powder extinguishers don't contain oxygen which could be why they used that in the end, once they got the lithium out of the battery so they could smother it.

        *I'm not a chemist - he's sat next door and is busy at the moment. I'll ask him later about this.

      3. gromm

        Re: Lithium + water?

        You mean when pure lithium is on fire, right?

        The Lithium in lithium-ion batteries is far from pure. Also, it only makes about 2% of the battery's mass. Which is what explains why firefighters were able to put out this fire with normal CO2 fire extinguishers.

      4. Spikehead

        Re: Lithium + water?

        There is no pure lithium in a Li-Ion battery. In thermal runaway all the constituents for fire are within the cell. CO2 or foam will have no effect. Water is the most effective extinguishant - the more the better - to kill the heat (the only thing you can control in a Li-Ion fire)

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Lithium + water?

      That said, is water the correct response for a car (ie: Fuel) fire? I've seen demonstrations of what happens when you put water onto an oil fire in the case of chip pan and in the case of spilt diesel and it isn't good.

      Giving the benefit of the doubt, could it have been water based foam?

      Personally my car has a dry powder (bi-carb) extinguisher in it.

      1. jonathanb Silver badge

        Re: Lithium + water?

        Sodium Bicarbonate doesn't work on lithium either. Where it does work, it works by releasing CO2 when heated up which displaces the oxygen. But as I explained earlier, lithium can burn in CO2.

      2. PatientOne

        Re: Lithium + water?

        The fire service in the UK use a chemical mix in the water tanks that make it more a hybrid of water and foam - it forms a skin over the liquid fuel that cuts off oxygen. Not sure if the American fire service does the same, and I'm not sure which service responded to this particular fire.

    3. Don Jefe

      Re: Lithium + water?

      Not absolutely correct. As with many fires, the cause of the fire, and not just its fuel must be addressed to safely extinguish the flames. Choosing incorrectly can lead to much larger problems.

      In the event of a lithium battery fire caused by thermal runaway in the cells, water is the first choice suppressant. It is the best suited to draining away the heat. Other suppressants may temporarily extinguish the flames through oxygen deprivation, but unless the heat component from the runaway is solved first the fire will resume in very, very short order. After the thermal runaway and initial flames have been suppressed with water other chemical suppressants may be safely used.

      This case appears to be just a good old fashioned electrical fire so water was not the correct choice. However, the Dreamliner situation and in other known industrial accidents caused by lithium thermal runaway water is the best initial choice. This is even more critical in an aircraft or vessel in which escape is not safe and the fire must stay suppressed.

      The biggest real risk with using water in a thermal runaway fire is that of hot metal slag being ejected from the water pressure and the busy chemical reaction taking place. This would obviously suck, but if it is happening in a place you can't escape from it is an acceptable risk.

      As larger lithium batteries enter the consumer product stream safety and awareness will increase. In this case a well educated fire team would have had to make a judgement call as to the actual source if the fire. Even if this was done the water must be applied directly to the batteries to inhibit the runaway. Possibly this is what they were trying but misjudged the cause of the fire?

      The upshot of this event is good. It provides for greater education opportunities for fire safety professionals. No one was hurt and now everyone can be better prepared.

      1. Sorry that handle is already taken. Silver badge

        "Electrical fire"?

        Does a burning battery without a ground loop pose the same hazard to firefighters using water as a fire involving grid electricity? I'd have expected the behaviour of the car's electrical systems to be very different.

        Lewis's experience on ships, presumably metal ones, may not be completely relevant to this particular scenario either, but then he's got the experience and training and I don't...

        1. Don Jefe

          Re: "Electrical fire"?

          I wouldn't think the hazards are anywhere near as bad in an automotive scenario, for a variety of reasons.

          I'm not sure what the electrical system parameters are on a Tesla S but, in the event of a fire, the chances of the entire battery circuit remaining closed during the time it takes for fire safety personnel to arrive would be astronomically low.

          There are certainly theoretical fringe cases one could construct, but overall it would be safer. The really great thing about a car fire is that if everyone is clear of the vehicle you don't have to put it out.

          If there were serious safety concerns about electrical or chemical hazards you could concentrate on keeping other things from catching fire and just let the car burn. No modern car is salvageable, economically, after a serious fire and you can't move a burned out car for hours anyway. Just watch it burn. Maybe pose for some hilarious pictures and be chuffed nobody is inside.

          1. Matt 21

            Re: "Electrical fire"?

            Perhaps it's worth mentioning that in my many years of driving, I've had accidents and I've seen a lot of accidents, some very nasty, but never a fire. I don't think fires in cars are common (as suggested by the article).

            The only fires I've seen have been the results of something spilt from a Lorry.

            I'm not saying they don't happen, they clearly do, just that it isn't common.

            I appreciate that people may not have this impression if they watch a lot of Hollywood films where cars catch fire and blow up with apparent ease. Perhaps Hollywood is right but only American cars react like this :-)

            1. jonathanb Silver badge

              Re: "Electrical fire"?

              I've seen a car in flames on a motorway once in my lifetime, and a couple of buses on fire. The bendy buses in London had a fault that caused them to catch fire when they were first introduced.

              I've seen other burnt out vehicles, but that was due to people delibarately setting them on fire rather than a fire caused by an accident or vehicle fault.

              1. Don Jefe

                Re: "Electrical fire"?

                Cars catch on fire while in use, it is not rare or weird. Automotive fire safety has improved a lot since 1980 when there were 456,000 highway vehicle fires in the US alone. In 2011 there were 187,500 highway vehicle fires in the US.


            2. Solmyr ibn Wali Barad

              Re: "Electrical fire"?

              "Hollywood films where cars catch fire and blow up with apparent ease. "

              Nah, those are special cars just for Hollywood. Carrying a belt of ignition pistons and a metric fuckton of fuel. Sometimes solvent, judging by the colour of the flames.

              But ordinary cars also catch fire. It is a fair percentage of accidents. Over 100 000 per year in US, and that is excluding Pintos, which have merrily burned away years ago.

              1. Solmyr ibn Wali Barad

                Re: "Electrical fire"?

                Aye, US numbers were right here in the comments.

                Don Jefe: "Automotive fire safety has improved a lot since 1980 when there were 456,000 highway vehicle fires in the US alone. In 2011 there were 187,500 highway vehicle fires in the US."

          2. Alan Brown Silver badge

            Re: "Electrical fire"?

            "The really great thing about a car fire is that if everyone is clear of the vehicle you don't have to put it out."

            If you don't put it out you have to repair the road after it burns out.

            1. Don Jefe

              Re: "Electrical fire"?

              Whole vehicle fires destroy asphalt roads anyway, even with suppression. Concrete roadways aren't usually harmed by vehicle fires. It all evens out; asphalt is cheap to fix, but easily damaged, concrete is expensive to fix but difficult to damage.

  3. Nick L

    But... batteries are packed into the whole of the floor!

    I recently looked at a Tesla in a showroom that was in a mall in the US. They had a car in there, and a bare rolling chassis, along with samples of the batteries used. The whole of the floorpan is packed with small, almost 16550-size, batteries. Literally thousands of 'em.

    Beautiful car. Brilliantly practical packaging, and if the supercharger network takes off the range becomes a non-issue if you can charge in 20 minutes. (Full charge on standard plug would take 3 days IIRC...). The interior is fantastic, and the centre console is a really good rethink. I would be seriously tempted by one, despite being a fully paid up petrolhead.

    I asked what would happen with batteries in a fire, and was told that they're practically inert. I did think that was a little odd. I asked what happened if they needed to change a faulty battery unit, and was told they don't fail. As I've got an expoded Macbook pro battery on my desk next to me, I have doubts.

    If Tesla is trying to say this happened at the front where the battery is located, something doesn't add up. The batteries are packed into the floor, front to back, on the Tesla S. The batteries are *everywhere*.

    I suppose the fact the fire was somewhat contained means they have managed to isolate things, but this is icky nasty stuff that's burning. Mind you, so are fossil fuels, but we're better at managing fires involving those after years of experience...

    I'll definitely be watching to see how TEsla handle this. Honesty is paramount, and the 'where the batteries are' line doesn't sit at all well with what Tesla say, and what I saw.

    1. Stevie Silver badge

      Re: But... batteries are packed into the whole of the floor!

      "... and if the supercharger network takes off the range becomes a non-issue if you can charge in 20 minutes"

      Except that the domestic grid is already not fit for purpose to hear some tell it, and this is the first year in my twenty years of home-ownership in which my house did *not* suffer a power outage just for being hooked up to LIPA, leading me to suspect that the problem with battery powered cars on Long Island - which one might naturally assume was an ideal place to deploy the technology given that most driving is short-hop well within the charge range of a Tesla - will be that they end up stranded in garages day after day when the LIPA-operated grid has no juice for them.

      As for putting the batteries next to the floor, I always thought this would end in tears. One look at the New York moonscape masquerading as a road network should lead you to do so too. Hell, I shuddered when I saw an old 1963 Morris Mini Minor barreling down Straight Path last year because I knew from personal experience there is only 4 inches of clearance between the road and the sump fins on that car and in New York a 4 inch excursion in road surface height is par for the course, especially after the snow plows have had a go.

      1. Don Jefe

        Re: But... batteries are packed into the whole of the floor!

        Your concerns about the battery location are not really very practical. Sure, you could hit an extraordinarily deep hole just right and damage something, but the actual ground clearance on the Tesla S is higher than many 'normal' rear wheel drive vehicles and is certainly greater than more traditional performance vehicles.

        The exhaust system on my fun car is several inches lower than a Tesla S and is fine to drive everywhere it is designed to go: Improved roads. You have to be aware of your surroundings, but that's not exclusive to the Tesla cars. If you want something to take on unimproved roads or drive in the snow, a Tesla would be a pretty awful option, regardless of where they put the batteries.

        The S kind of qualifies as an entry level performance car and any car of that type requires a little more awareness anyway. This is a strange accident and it could have just as easily destroyed the fuel lines in an internal combustion vehicle and resulted in just as much of fire.

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        @ Stevie



    2. Nick L

      Re: But... batteries are packed into the whole of the floor!

      Ok, so the article has been updated quite a lot. Better explanation on the isolation; wonder why showroom staff didn't know that? If this didn't end up in a smoking crater and didn't end up releasing lots of toxic stuff then, perversely, i think it could be classed as a successful containment.

      what caused the fire, and details on how spread it really was will still be interesting.

      and i completely agree with the point that leccy cars will need a different approach to generation and distribution: micro reactors at recharge stations? (but if that's possible just give me my Mr Fusion!)

      1. Steven Raith

        Re: But... batteries are packed into the whole of the floor!

        What caused the fire was apparently hitting a large metal object, breaching the battery pack.

        How it spread? It didn't, really - the affected packs shorted after being damaged and ran away thermally, eventually catching fire. The rest of the packs were firewalled off - quite effectively, it seems. So effectively that despite them running down the spine of the car, the passenger compartment was unharmed.

        The showroom staff not knowing about the firewalling is straightforward - they're likely sales and service, not technical, or at least not technical to the degree that would expose them to that kind of knowledge (although I'm surprised it's not something they get asked more often - I was wondering about it meself). They'll know a lot about the cars, but not everything. In the same way that a lass in an Apple retail store (we won't darken things by talking about PC World, it's too easy...) wouldn't know the highest speed RAM a Macbook Pro can utilise. There's only so much they need to know, unless they're geeky like us.

        I'll be honest, rather like the 'supercar splits in two in crash!!!111!!' stories you see (they're meant to - the subframes are meant to break away to reduce the momentum of the passenger compartment - and reduce the risk of the drivetrain entering it...) this seems to be more of a testimonial to the engineers than anything else; take a petrol powered car in the same situation, and you've got split fuel pipes pissing fuel onto hot components, which has a far higher likelihood for a disastrous outcome.

        Steven 'knows what RAM you can put in a 2008 Unibody Macbook' R

      2. Ian Michael Gumby Silver badge

        @Nick.. Re: But... batteries are packed into the whole of the floor!

        The show room types are pretty much peons who lack the finer points of technology (chemistry and engineering) (So too did the firemen who tried to use water on a Tesla first.)

        The car looks nice, drives well. (I was in one as a passenger for a test ride.

        As a 6'2" adult male, I can tell you that you don't want to sit in the back of one of these because you have no head room.

        I'm waiting for the SUV model.

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: But... batteries are packed into the whole of the floor!

      You say that "honesty is paramount", but to be honest I think you'll find that marketing is paramount.

      For instance, isn't it funny how so many people were gently and persuasively led into thinking that 1GJ of energy in the form of batteries is necessarily any safer than 1GJ in the form of petrol? A lot of concentrated energy in any form is potentially lethal.

      1. Matt 21

        @ Steven Raith

        You seem to imply that a normal petrol or diesel car hitting a large metal object is more dangerous.

        I disagree. Having slid on some oil and hit a large metal object my car (petrol powered) didn't catch fire or even give off any smoke. I did destroy the radiator and so there was coolant on the floor but I believe the fuel pump was automatically cut off...... either way no fire just a big repair bill!

        1. Steven Raith

          Re: @ Steven Raith

          I think whether an electric car is better or worse than a conventional ICE car is really down to dumb luck more than anything else - every accident is different.

          I think, to a degree, you could argue that a well designed battery pack (with suitable firewalls etc) could be safer than a petrol powered equivelant. Both contain large amounts of potentially flammable fuel, but with petrol (diesel is far harder to ignite generally) there is more chance of it pooling and spreading vapours - IIRC, Li based batteries tend to 'clump' their 'leavings' in one place - but they do burn rather harder.

          Long and short of it, though, is don't drive over large metallic objects. Christ knows, I have enough problems with potholes in my little Puma...

  4. Alistair Silver badge

    Is it me, or is video dolt driving and filming at the same time?

    and can we find it and beat it till it promises to never touch a phone while in the drivers seat?

    On topic:

    I think that the issue is that the firefighters came at it with water at all -- it is a Tesla, know as an all electric. Personally I'd be inclined to use CO2 from the git go on that beast for *any* fire -- not water. Just on principle.

    How it caught fire -- this is what we'll have to be paying attention to. What I've read is that it "ran over a large metal object" - something that could well have damaged a gasoline or propane vehicle as much as the Tesla. **that bit** I want to see how Elon deals with.

    27 8x10 colour glossy photographs with circles and arrows and diagrams on the back of each one

    1. Stevie Silver badge

      Re: Is it me, or is video dolt driving and filming at the same time?

      If it's you, you should stop doing that. It's dangerous.

    2. Steve Knox

      Re: Is it me, or is video dolt driving and filming at the same time?

      How it caught fire ... **that bit** I want to see how Elon deals with.

      **that bit** I want to see a completely independent investigator deal with.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Is it me, or is video dolt driving and filming at the same time?

        Unexplained fires are a matter for the courts!

    3. Chemist

      Re: Is it me, or is video dolt driving and filming at the same time?

      "Personally I'd be inclined to use CO2"

      Burning metal fires need special extinguishers, they often carry on quite well with CO2 using the oxygen from the carbon dioxide. CO2 also disperses unless it's in a confined space.

      From several real personal experiences with burning potassium, sodium and lithium aluminium hydride the best way is with dry powder preferably the 'ternary' mix designed for such fires

    4. Should b Working

      Re: Is it me, or is video dolt driving and filming at the same time?

      most annoying part of that video for me was the aspect. Turn your damn phone sideways when taking videos!!

    5. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Is it me, or is video dolt driving and filming at the same time?

      I wouldn't use CO2 on a burning liquid fire, unless you *really* know what you're doing. Dry powder for them, by default, but CO2 for everything else.

    6. MachDiamond Silver badge

      Re: Is it me, or is video dolt driving and filming at the same time?


      "27 8x10 colour glossy photographs with circles and arrows and diagrams on the back of each one"

      Huge upvote for the Alice's Restaurant reference!

  5. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Thermal runaway

    Lithium batteries are prone to thermal runaway. This is why they have built-in circuitry that is supposed to protect the battery from this problem. I suspect that the collision damaged this safety feature and the battery and as a result it self immolated.

    Cars fuelled with petrol can also catch fire if the fuel system is damaged in a collision but at least these need an ignition source.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Thermal runaway

      "Lithium batteries are prone to thermal runaway". Which is why Toyota, with their own brand and Lexus hybrids stick to NiMH. They now have 16 years experience with this type of vehicle.

      1. Lars Silver badge

        Re: Thermal runaway

        Perhaps some at Boeing are thinking about it too.

      2. armster

        Re: Thermal runaway

        Toyota uses Li batteries in their Prius plug-in. There simply is no choice when it comes to range. NiMh is only useful if you want ~100000 cycles of partial charge/discharge as you would in a standard hybrid during regenerative breaking.

        If you 'insert' a metallic object into a LiMg battery there will be a fire. Tesla packs are built to deal with such a fire should it happen to a few isolated cells. If many cells in close proximity get internally shorted (no protection circuit can help there) that area will ignite. I think it shows good engineering that the fire did not spread through the entire battery pack.

        Most cars have exposed fuel lines along the underside and a convenient ignition source in form of a catalytic converter right next to them. Car fires are really not that rare.

        1. Don Jefe

          Re: Thermal runaway

          If you insert a metal object into any battery it will arc and could catch fire. That has always been the case.

          The Chevrolet Corvette used to have serious battery fire problems due to the cars fiberglass construction and the location of the battery just behind the front wheel next to the fender (a super common spot to be hit in an accident). The big metal bumpers of old would punch right through the fender and into the battery and inevitably caught fire.

          They solved this in later models by putting a steel plate inside the battery area to prevent puncture. As an aside, that steel plate became a very popular aftermarket add-on as car thieves were drilling through the fender and into the battery. Draining the battery, thus disabling the factory anti-theft system. I don't know how many cars were stolen that way (or who would want to steal one) but I know the car stereo shop where I worked in high school sure did put a lot of those plates in those cars.

      3. MachDiamond Silver badge

        Re: Thermal runaway

        Chevron owns the basic patents on the NIMH batteries through a subsidiary and they are not too keen on electric cars. There are no licenses for NIMH over 10AH (IIRC) granted. Licenses are also not granted for automotive propulsion applications. Toyota is grandfathered on their license which is why they use them. NIMH is less power dense, but the cost is drastically lower. There is some good information in "Who Killed the Electric Car" and various articles online. This is one of the biggest reasons I would like to see some patent reform in the USA. Between the trolls and companies that buy up patents to sit on them, the world is a poorer place. Patents were never supposed to be used in those manners.

    2. David Kelly 2

      Re: Thermal runaway

      *SOME* lithium chemistries are prone to thermal runaway.

    3. Ian Michael Gumby Silver badge

      Re: Thermal runaway

      There are always a way to ignite a fire....

      I was sitting in my SOHO in downtown Chicago. I heard a car accident and ran to my window. It was a large truck. I called 911. I told the operator that the truck had just caught fire and that they should hurry and get a fire truck over there. (The closet fire station is less than 1/3 of a mile away.)

      Was on with the operator for 10-15 mins and then the diesel tank cooked and blew. (Big boom, no real damage to anything surrounding it.)

      The operator asked me what that was... I told her the diesel tank just cooked. Within 30 seconds, you could hear the fire trucks arriving on the scene.

      Bottom line. Depending on the wreck... you can cook a car, any car.

  6. Darryl

    Expect more cease-and-desist orders from Tesla sent to everyone who covers this story. Probably a libel lawsuit against the person who caught it on video and the firefighters too.

  7. loneranger

    No problem

    They just need to add an automatic fire extinguishing system to the area where the battery is, like foam or dry chemical. At the Tesla's going price, that shouldn't be a big deal.

    I would hope that common sense would prevail instead of a tempest in a teapot. As the article noted, any car can catch fire and/or explode under the right conditions, so, so what?

    1. AVee

      Re: No problem

      I wouldn't bother. The fire didn't affect the passenger cabin and didn't spread quickly. The driver was (according to Tesla at least) even warned about the situation. To me it seems the car handle the fire rather fine actually.

  8. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Car catches fire, not really a big deal except that the guy who owns the Tesla company has a pretty pattern of nastiness and denial when it come to less than stellar coverage of his luxury go-kart.

  9. Mike Flugennock
    Thumb Up

    Love the commentary on the video

    ", I can feel the heat in here! ...oh, that's a Tesla, dude! ...oohhhhhh, shit...!"

  10. David Kelly 2

    Lewis Page, I expected better of you

    Trivial research would show the Tesla Model S battery is *not* in the front of the car as this article claims. Its under the floorboard behind the front tires and in front of the rear tires.

    Now look at the video. The top of the hood (front bonnet) is on fire. The front fenders are on fire. The road under the car is on fire. How could that be? How could batteries ignite the road? Something spilled over the car and ran off under the car.

    Initial reports state the car hit something large and metal. Then the onboard systems told the occupants to stop and run.

    Looks to me as if they hit a 5 gallon gas can in the middle of the road. No other vehicle would have fared differently.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Lewis Page, I expected better of you

      That's certainly what it looks like to me.

  11. ItsNotMe

    "Tesla has provided more details about the fire, ...the car "performed as it was designed to do.""

    And that would be bursting into flames when it runs over some large object?

    Is it possible to order a Tesla WITHOUT that option? Hmmm?

  12. Anonymous Coward

    Here's waiting...

    For Tesla to continue their streak and start sueing the manufacturers of "large metal objects" because obviously they were out to damage their very good and honest reputation <cough, cough>.

    1. Don Jefe

      Re: Here's waiting...

      Tesla probably won't sue, but the owner of the car likely will. He'll likely win as well. Failure to maintain a hazard free road that results in damage to the vehicle almost always wins in court and the city/owner of the road has to pay. That was a big deal in the 90's when the 'cool kids' were putting those huge ugly wheels on their cars and the matter has been settled in many, many courts.

  13. Yet Another Commentard


    It's an interesting training point for firefighters that when attending a vehicle collision/fire they need to think about fuel sources. If we have ostensibly identical cars (yes, I know, cars look different but one inferno is very like another, and some twisted wrecks will be hard to ID) with some combination of one or more of petrol/diesel/lithium/fuel cell it makes "how to deal with this" key decisions difficult.

    Are we heading towards a point where every vehicle needs a clearly visible code (like those orange decals on tankers) telling firefighters instantly what they are dealing with?

    1. David Kelly 2

      Re: Firefighters

      But the lithium battery is not near the center of that fire.

      What fuels the fire on the OUTSIDE of the car? Metal body panels and dry paint don't burn like that. Neither does the road. I say the vehicle had to be doused with something flammable.

      1. ian 22

        Re: Firefighters

        Vehicle doused? <cough> insurance fraud <cough>

  14. Henry Wertz 1 Gold badge

    About burn rate

    "At first sight the stock hit would seem quite unfair, as petrol-fuelled cars routinely burn following accidents"

    I wouldn't say petrol-fuelled cars *routinely* burn, at least here in the US it's pretty uncommon to have cars, even after a serious accident, just decide to light up.

    I was going to say it seems the Tesla's are burning quite a bit considering how few have shipped. But I googled it, a quote from the globe and mail:

    "Given that Tesla’s Model S and the discontinued Roadster have been driven a combined 113 million miles and that this was the first battery fire, the company’s rate of catching fire was still only one-tenth the frequency of conventional car fires, Wedbush Securities analyst Craig Irwin said. "

    Umm, I guess this analyst will ignore the other Tesla fire a few years ago (due to an improperly routed electrical cable -- 12 volt, though, not part of the drive train.) If this statement is otherwise accurate, it'd still make it's burn rate 1/5th of conventional cars.

    1. JP19

      "only one-tenth the frequency of conventional car fire"

      I don't supposed they bothered to restrict their comparison to conventional cars less than 18 months old which I am sure the majority of Teslas doing those 113 million miles were.

      Have Teslas really only done 113 million miles so far? I found US road transport vehicles averaged 336 million miles each hour of 2011. So Teslas entire production worldwide has contributed about 20 minutes worth of the states total mileage so far - sobering thought.

  15. Snivelling Wretch

    It's not that big of a deal...'re just driving it wrong.

    1. Galidron

      Re: It's not that big of a deal...

      I'd say so. Running over large metal objects doesn't seem like the proper way to go about it.

  16. Goldmember

    Christ on a bike

    If you're going to do something as stupid as filming whilst driving, at least have the courtesy to spin your phone round and film it landscape. Sheesh.

  17. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    "The cabin of the car is similarly protected and even after the car burned, these stopped any damage to the interior and the fire department was able to extinguish the blaze using normal fire-fighting materials."

    So, basically, the car's safety features prevented injury exactly as they were designed to do, but that didn't stop The Register from implying in the headline that the car is unsafe despite its ratings.

    Stay classy, Reg. I'm really disappointed in you for this one. Some engineers busted their asses making sure this situation would play out exactly like this - with the occupant unharmed - and their efforts apparently worked exactly as they were designed to. Hell, the article itself suggests that the driver could have lounged around checking his email while the fire was put out and come to no harm. And yet you walk right up to the line of saying the designers were incompetent in order to pull in a few more clicks.

    As a guy who has personally put tons of time into making sure his own product is safe, I find it quite depressing that you'd sink that low. It's one thing to use DAILY MAIL STYLE headlines and exaggerate EVERY SINGLE TIME - or even occasionally - but when your witticisms impugn peoples' reputations and hurt their businesses, you've gone way too far.

    1. roblightbody

      Couldn't agree more.

      The register is read by Engineers. Engineers designed this car, and they appear to have done a superb job. Very disappointed at the Register Headline/tone until I got to the end and read the truth from Tesla.

      If you'd wanted to make a humorous story out of this, it should have been about the idiots who say this car is unsafe.

  18. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    "The car's alert system signaled a problem and instructed the driver to pull over safely, which he did. No one was injured, and the sole occupant had sufficient time to exit the vehicle safely and call the authorities."

    And if he had a friend banging a hooker in the back seat, would THEY also have had time to get out safely? Eh?

  19. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    ...the large metal object didn't have any rounded-corners?

    Oh, sorry, wrong woo.

  20. ecofeco Silver badge

    Not safe?

    The passengers walked away after hitting something large enough to seriously damage the batteries and cause them to ignite..

    That's about as safe it gets with cars.

    BTW, did you know the Tesla is the number one selling car is Norway in Sept.?

  21. Semaj


    I really wish people would stop recording videos with their phone rotated vertically.

    Or the developers of the recording software should automatically transpose them. It's hardly rocket science.

    1. Peter Reid

      Re: Video

      Er, well, it might be rocket science... or at least, impossible science. Unless the phone physically forces you to turn it by 90 degrees (hell of a gyroscope :-), or rotates the CCD internally, it can only deal with the image as projected... We need youTube to either show the image horizontally (and we all get cricked necks), or they introduce a 'vertical mode'. (Actually, the last one's the easiest, I guess: an "idiot-aspect" button.)

  22. Lottie


    Take away the manufacturer and the hyperbole and we have "Car hits object that ruptures something. Car tells driver to pull over. Fire doesn't breach fire safety engineering. No one dies"

    I'd call that a win.

    I'll reserve judgement on the fire crew and their motives. I don't know enough about tackling fires to make a judgement (however, the suggestion that water should be used to remove the risk of reignition is quite a compelling argument) and it's all to easy to say "They obviously didn't knwo what they were doing" when you don't know their reasoning.

  23. Parax

    It's not the only car to catch fire.

    This is not the first Accident of this type .

    This is not a problem that is specific to battery cars. There is only so much you can design for. Accidents will always happen. In this case there was more time for a safe stop and evacuation.

    Stored Energy has the potential to be released. Whether it is oil or battery based energy is dangerous.

    So here are some figures on US vehicle fires. I make that over 500 fires per day.

  24. Maharg

    Safety features performed well

    Having been in a situation where the car you are in randomly catches fire without hitting anything and you have barely enough time to pull over, grab your sh** and get the flock out of there before the whole thing goes up, including the cabin, in less than five minutes, and leaving a charred shell by the side of a main road in France, I have to say, apart from the whole ‘catching fire’ bit I think (if what the spokesmen said is true) the safety features performed well.

    Also on a side note, can we raise awareness of the horribleness that people are inflicting on each other on a day to day basis, namely, filming in the wrong aspect ratio hold your phone sideways FFS! 16:9 not 9:16!

    1. Parax

      Re: Safety features performed well

      Need camera phones to have square sensors and auto rotate the captured image..

  25. Scroticus Canis

    Made in the U.S. of A. = Made to Burn?

    If this is the safest car ever tested in the USA does that prove all US made cars are designed to burn on impact? Watching US TV and films does seem to show a much higher incidence of burning cars than other nations?

    1. ian 22

      Re: Made in the U.S. of A. = Made to Burn?

      Spot on! Chuck Norris' cars ALWAYS burn. However as a counter example, cars rarely burn in Bugs Bunny cartoons.

  26. M7S

    Emergency Services Tranining

    There's a few comments above about training firefighters to deal with "this type of car". Even one suggesting "in the target market areas" which presumes that, charging/range issues aside, that owners might in some way be restricted to certain areas. I can think of better criteri to confine people to certain areas, but that's for another thread....

    Car design has become hugely complex. I'm involved in rescuing people from cars in the UK and even with petrol ones there are issues. For example, in serious collisions, the best way to extricate someone involves removing the roof. A few years ago Trumpton would turn up, fire up the Holmtatro and six snips later we were shoving spinal boards and KEDs (other extrication vests are available, if your local NHS trust bothers to carry any at all) down people's backs.

    Now there are all sorts of hazards in the roof, some cars have airbag curtains (meaning there are possibly un-discharged pyrotechnics in the roof) and for a few the fuel line goes through the roof via the a- and c-posts, so removal becomes a nightmare. Remember it's your ability to walk again that we're trying to preserve here so whilst cutting a car apart is fun, there is a reason behind it.

    Another issue is power. In the old days (again) turn up, open the bonnet and cut the earth strap from the battery to prevent sparks and make everything safe, then attend to the casualty, perhaps wind back the seat after we've braced them to get the extrication gear on, maybe even slide the seat backwards to get better access to the legs or forwards so we've more room to work on the rear passengers. Oh no, not now becase all the seats are electric with no manual release (at least not without tools and a mechanic).

    I'm sure there will be issues with electric vehicles as they become more widespread and the subject is of interest as I'm hoping to get one for a few days trial later this month (Not a Tesla), but now crews are having to try to identify the model of a vehicle on arrival (can you tell a partially burned Cosworth from a normal Sierra?, showing my age I know) and then look it up which requires lots of books or a tablet of some form with connectivity (and we're not all in shiny London with good signal) whilst trying to work out if the time critical patient can be removed "properly" or if we're going to have to risk their spine because there is not time to make the scene safe and their compromised breathing or circulation takes priority.

    I've no complaint about the article and this is El Reg but comments having a pop at this car because it's electric are rather wide of the mark.

  27. Mike Richards

    At least it wasn't a Pinto

    The US government says there were an average of 152,300 car fires each year between 2006 2010. Each year they caused an average of 209 deaths, 764 injuries, and $536 million in direct property damage.

    Apparently Tesla has the car in their labs and they'll have to respond because the one thing America is even better at than high tech is litigation.

  28. RainForestGuppy

    New technology

    Did the first steam trains work perfectly or were there many cases of them blowing up?

    Did the first planes work perfectly or were there many cases of them falling out of the skies?

    Did the first internal combustion engines work perfectly or were there many cases of them destroying themselves, bursting into flames etc?

    I think you'll find the answer to the above questions, is always the later.

    New technologies will always have failures until the flaws are worked out. Telsa should be applauded for trying to produce a real electric car, rather than tax avoidance/emission regulation projects like the Nissan leaf, or the complete waste of space which are the hybrids** (slow, ugly and less economic than a decent diesel motor).

    If people had jumped all over new technologies like the steam engine, powered flight and the internal combustion engine in the same way that they want Tesla to fail, then we would all still be riding around in horse and carts.

    ** Except Supercar hybrids like the Porsche 918 which use the electric motors for a power boost rather than some attempt to be 'green'.

  29. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Hello this is the 911 operator

    Car fire eh? (opens manual)

    which make?

    which model?

    What year?

    is that the dual fuel, hybrid, diesel or petrol model?

    what do you mean, just get a fire truck here, people are burning? I dont want to be sued by the manufacturers for sending an appliance with the wrong medium to extinguish it.

    sometimes the commentards are more idiotic than the storylines.

    it was a car on fire, the fire department attended......they roll up to factory blazes en-mass too without knowing what is inside....time is critical, the type of fire and way to extinguish are split second decisions taken on-site to save lives

  30. psychonaut


    Lala la la la....SMACK...Ohh it sounds like something big fell off.

  31. roblightbody

    Look at the facts

    Significant accident.

    Driver unhurt.

    Passenger compartment remained undamaged - there would have been ample time to get 4 or 5 people out safely.

    Only the battery that was damaged caught fire.

    No wonder Tesla gets Pugnacious when such nonsense is written about their cars. I would too.

  32. Marketing Hack Silver badge

    Maybe Tesla's should come with an onboard halon suppression system!!

    Or maybe foam! They are expensive enough :)

  33. John Robson Silver badge

    So the story is...

    Worlds safest car has major failure, and noone is hurt.

    Doesn't that rather match the "worlds safest car" moniker?

  34. Spikehead

    Lithium-Ion Batteries

    Ok, so Tesla have stated that the fire started in the battery pack. The most likely cause of this is due to the metal debris the driver said he ran over punctured a cell and caused a short circuit.

    Now, this is a Lithium-Ion battery pack, which contains no raw lithium metal, and hence is not reactive to water.

    Conventional fire training states that for an electrical fire, do not use water. In the case of a Li-Ion fire, this is not the case. Once the cell goes into thermal runaway, all the ingredients for the fire (Fuel, oxygen and heat) are in the cell. using CO2 or foam will have no effect (these are used to remove an external source of oxygen from the fire).

    It has been stated that the initial use of water was not effective. Looking at the video the fire seems to have spread beyond the batteries, so there is likely to be an electrical fire outside the battery, plus whatever other flammables are there. At this point they used dry extinguishers, smashed through the battery and at that point (which this article does not mention) water was used on the cells to finally put out the source of the fire. It seems to me that the fire department on site had the proper knowledge and training to deal with the fire.

    No-one was injured and the driver evacuated the vehicle safely. Any artificially powered vehicle that suffers damage in the wrong place will catch fire. There are numerous vehicle fires on our roads (and race tracks) every year, and none of these have this kind of effect on the stock price of that company. Hopefully the post-mortem reports will bring market confidence back to Tesla.

    1. JP19

      Re: Lithium-Ion Batteries

      "and none of these have this kind of effect on the stock price of that company"

      Just lol - none of the other car manufactures have such ridiculously astronomically high valuations.

      One fire devalued the company by 6%? An ounce of common sense would devalue the company by 90%

  35. Dick Emery


    Another idiot holding the camera the wrong way.

  36. jibanes

    Buying a tesla

    I was shopping for an upgrade to my trusty Prius, but it looks like the Tesla isn't the best options, I have kids, and I don't want to seem them burning to their death.

  37. Eugene Goodrich

    Email from Tesla says water is correct

    From the email they sent me (I'm on their mailing list):

    [[When the fire department arrived, they observed standard procedure, which was to

    gain access to the source of the fire by puncturing holes in the top of the

    battery's protective metal plate and applying water. For the Model S lithium-ion

    battery, it was correct to apply water (vs. dry chemical extinguisher), but not to

    puncture the metal firewall, as the newly created holes allowed the flames to then

    vent upwards into the front trunk section of the Model S. Nonetheless, a

    combination of water followed by dry chemical extinguisher quickly brought the fire

    to an end.]]

    Water may be wrong for an electrical fire, but apparently it's right for a lithium-ion battery fire, I guess.

  38. Phil11

    Missed the Main Point

    This article seems a bit snarky and misleading - particularly the title.

    The simple fact is the Tesla still is the safest car ever made.

    Directly from MIT Tech Review: "there were 187,000 vehicle fires in the United States in 2011. That’s one fire for every 1,738 cars on the road. With Tesla, this fire makes one out of almost 20,000." That’s still 10X LESS frequent than an ICE.

    Also, about 1 person dies a day in an ICE car fire and about 1600 injuries a year while there have been ZERO deaths or even injuries from a Tesla fire. That is still enormously impressive and easily lives up to the title 'Safest Car'.

  39. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Looks fishy to me

    The vehicle is a few feet from a right hand turn at a junction. One would assume it had been coming to a stop as the driver approached the junction then went into flames as the driver pulled away?

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